Far too often, entrepreneurs get "stuck" in the usual tactics with bringing products to market. Truth-be-told, far too often entrepreneurs simply get "stuck" in many areas of their lives. Well, in this week's episode we sit with a founder who considers herself an "accidental entrepreneur" and we get to learn how she (not so) accidentally created a brand-new water category and grew that brand to over $100 million in revenue. Despite the obstacles that female founders encounter, she was able to overcome the doubts and doubters and establish herself as a category leader within her industry.
My guest this week is Kara Goldin, founder and CEO of Hint Water. For those that may not be aware of Hint Water, Hint is an unsweetened flavored beverage. In fact, when Kara launched Hint she actually launched a brand new category. Prior to Hint there was no unsweetened flavored water beverage out there. Everything had chemicals and sweeteners.
What is really interesting about Kara’s story is that her background was technology and media, yet here she is leading a multi-million-dollar global beverage brand. I love Kara’s story because she didn’t allow “what she didn’t know” to stop her from moving forward with bringing a product, she created to improve her own health, to the larger market. The reason the doubts and doubters didn’t phase her is because she knew the consumer needed this solution…again…there was nothing else out there when she created Hint. It was her determination and mission that allowed her to silence the noise and focus on what had to be done in order to build the business and the brand the way she wanted to.
As inspiring as she might sound solely based upon my introduction, you can’t forget that NO success story happened overnight…in fact…most success stories start far earlier than many thinks.
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Kara Goldin: Hi, I'm Kara Goldin, founder and CEO of Hint, and this is MY startup story.
James McKinney: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of The Startup Story. March is shaping up to be an absolute power house roster of founder guests. Last week we featured the startup story of Matt Mullenweg, the cofounder of WordPress and CEO of Automattic. And today we get to hear from Kara Goldin, the founder of Hint water and author of the bestselling book Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters. But before we jump into her episode, Kara has provided us with some cases of Hint water as well as some copies of her book to giveaway to you, The Startup Story listener. There is absolutely no purchase necessary to enter and we will include a link in the show notes for easy access to the giveaway and entry form. Since there is no purchase necessary, then there are no excuses accepted. Hit up that link in our show notes today.
But one last thing before we jump into this week's episode. We're coming up on the end of the first quarter of 2021. Would you like a little boost in visibility for your business and brand? Then make sure to leave a review within Apple Podcast and plug your brand in that review. Every time there's a new review in Apple Podcast I read it in an episode. If you include your URL, social handles, or simply your brand name in that review then it becomes a mini advertisement within The Startup Story podcast. Putting you in front of my 85,000 listeners is the least I can do to say thank you for leaving a written review in Apple Podcast. Also, if you think your Startup Story is deserving of a full episode then please visit thestartupstory.co/yourstory and submit your story for consideration for a featured episode. Now, it's not a guarantee that you'll be accepted for a future episode but that is the best way possible to submit your story. Everything I do is centered on helping your entrepreneurial journey. Now let's jump into this week's episode.
My guest this week is Kara Goldin, the founder and CEO of Hint Water. And for those that may not be aware of Hint Water, Hint is an unsweetened flavored beverage. In fact, when Kara launched Hint she actually launched a brand new category. Prior to Hint there was no unsweetened flavored water beverage out there at all in the marketplace. Everything had chemicals and sweeteners. What is really interesting about Kara's story is that her background was technology and media. Yet, here she is leading a multimillion dollar global beverage brand. I love Kara's story because she didn't allow what she didn't know to stop her from moving forward with bringing a product that she created to improve her own personal health to a large market. The reason the doubts and doubters didn't faze her is because she knew the consumer needed this solution. Again, there was nothing else out there when she created Hint. It was her determination and mission that allowed her to silence the noise and focus on what had to be done in order to build the business and the brand the way she wanted to.
Now as inspiring as she might sound solely based upon my introduction, you can't forget that no success story happens overnight. In fact, most success stories start far earlier than many even think.
Kara Goldin: I think that the key thing that is probably a little bit unique about my childhood and growing up is that I had a father who was kind of a frustrated entrepreneur. I don't know if he would have called himself that, but he had started a brand that you may be familiar with called Healthy Choice. And it was inside of a larger company when I was a little, little girl. He had worked for a company called Armor Food Company and they were acquired. I guess it was the first time I'd ever seen an acquisition happened and sort of lived in it. I didn't really know what I was seeing necessarily, but they were acquired by a company called Con-Agra. So he continued. He moved into working at Con-Agra and managing this brand, and continued growing it. I remember just as he started to grow it, many frustrations of sort of working inside of a large company, and I didn't even necessarily know what I was learning at the time.
But me and my older brothers and sisters were like, "Why don't you go start your own company?" Because he's very creative, and he had a slogan a minute. He had come sort of from the advertising world prior to actually becoming a product manager. It's interesting because I think so many things that I learned from him stemmed out of really that experience, not only about anybody can do it if they set their mind to it but also frankly the frustrations of being in a large company. But I think also what I go back to is that it was also a different time where you think back on, I mean he passed away 10 years ago but he would have been in his early nineties. You're at that time, they made decisions at 21 for a role for the rest of your life.
James McKinney: Yeah, yeah.
Kara Goldin: Like I've said this to my college kids, like once you make a decision you can actually change your mind, right? Because people do it all the time. It might not change industries. But you can actually go and do something different. But in his era, it was you had one job, maybe two. So that was the fear that he had created that I felt very much for him. What he never shared with us is he also felt responsibility frankly for his five children, and putting food on the table. But I think I call him a frustrated entrepreneur because he had so many ideas and definitely could have been an entrepreneur, and frankly could have made a lot more money as well. But he was incredibly loyal to this company. One of the things I talk about in my book is that, that loyalty actually kind of bit him in the butt later on in the 80s when during a time when it was very, very important to have an MBA. And so he was, when I was in high school, he was let go from his company and I could not figure it out. I said this is like, one of the number one products inside of a large company, how can they let you go? Again, it was a time when there were things on paper that meant a lot. Whether they were meaningful… I mean today we'll hire people who are just smart that don't even have a college degree, right?
James McKinney: Absolutely.
Kara Goldin: And it was a very, very different time. So anyway I think all of those things are things that ultimately have helped me to really understand and kind of come out with some big statements too around large companies including the fact that there are really smart people working inside of large companies, but I think innovation is it's got its rails that you work in between. They're not very risk averse, or I should say they are risk adverse, they don't really want to go and do risky things. Instead they want to go do things that are going to continue to make them money. So I think growing up with that, I think was just a really interesting kind of sort of backbone to have.
The other person I talk about in the book too is my brother who's 15 years older. We had almost like two families in our house even though we all had the same parents. But he had this business of buying old Volkswagens. He would buy them and he would fix them up. Again, I had nothing to do and I'd sit in the garage with him. He had great music and so I'd just like sit there while he was fixing cars. I don't know, I'd color or do whatever. He would just talk to me about, "Never paint a Volkswagen blue. Always paint them red because you make more money in the resale." You know? He didn't even remember that he was saying these things.
James McKinney: I love it.
Kara Goldin: But they were just, I'd be like okay red, that's the color. Then I'll never forget when he got a little crazy, he had made a lot of money buying Volkswagens and reselling them, and so he decided that he would buy an MG. He still says that was like the biggest mistake of his life because he really, he wanted to fix it up and then drive it for a little while and then sell it, but what he realized is that an Italian sports car versus a German Volkswagen, very different. And so he would, he'd sit here and talk to me about like, "You're not going to make as much margin. It's really like the parts are more expensive, they take longer." And there were all these things that I learned from him as well in that process. So again, I think that I feel like my upbringing frankly very similar to what I say today about even advisors that advisors can come from anywhere. That you don't just have one advisor; you find people who can kind of share just different stories with you that you're able to pick and choose from lots of different people along the way.
James McKinney: You know I love it. And you mentioned once about your book Undaunted and we're going to include a link in the show notes for your book. You know, and that book covers your journey, much like what we're going to be doing today. And so I know the dots that connects us from where we are to where you end up going with Hint. The listeners, in hearing your story for the first time can probably start to see having been raised by the frustrated entrepreneur, the influences of your brother, can start seeing how there are these seeds that were being sewn on the idea of entrepreneurship, the idea of having control of what your destiny or your future or your product or your service was.
But there's still a gap to be covered between childhood and Hint. And so coming to the end of high school which is a natural new chapter, it's the end of one chapter and beginning of another for most people, and I might have freshman… In fact I do have some business school students who listen, maybe there's some high school students listening I'm unaware of that they're trying to process do I really want to go to college, I really want to build something, what does my future hold for me. So when you think back to your high school years, coming to the end of high school what did your future look like? Did you know you had to do college? Did you dance around college? What was that next step for you and why?
Kara Goldin: So my 15 year old son said this to me the other day, that he seriously cannot even believe how this kind of happened to me., but when I was in high school as I mentioned my dad was laid off, and he was off work for a couple of years and then Con-Agra ended up hiring him back. But the condition was that he move from Scottsdale, Arizona to Omaha, Nebraska. And so my parents did not want to move me because they felt that it was their problem to deal with. again, I was the last of five kids and so they knew how responsible I was and so they let me stay back in Arizona. So I was in high school and I mean it was crazy, right? It's crazy to think back on it, especially if you're a parent.
And so I went to my college counselor at the end of my junior year, and I said, "Just so you know, my parents are moving up to Omaha, Nebraska but my sister is in school in Arizona, my brother is downtown, there's people around." Just to make sure it was on the up and up. And my college counselor said to me, "So Kara, did you know that… you're in really good shape. You have enough credits to graduate right now." And I said, "Wait what?" I was just cranking along, just going to school, and what's interesting about Arizona and I still think it's the same thing today is that we had the summer school that we could go to. And again it was so darn hot during the summer in Arizona, and it was very social to be able to go to these classes. So I would take a couple classes during the summer because all my friends were taking them. It was a bunch of other high schools, so it was a big social, we knew where all the parties were along the way. And it was a lot of fun, but I had no idea. And so I graduated with my class. I came back a year later, but I technically graduated in three years. People said, "Oh, were you just brilliant?" No. I mean, I was smart, but it was just because I took advantage of taking these classes during the summer.
So anyway, my parents moved to Omaha and then we ended up selling our house that I was living in. so I thought I was going to have to go up to Omaha, Nebraska and my sister was going to school down at Arizona State University which was like 30 minutes away from where I lived. And so I thought well, she needs a roommate so I'll go down and live with her. She didn't love living with her high school sister very much. She loved me and everything, but she was just like this is just weird. And so she ended up moving in and leaving me the apartment. Actually I got a couple of friends of mind, who were in high school, their parents allowed them… So we were living on Arizona State university's campus but we're still technically like in high school. It was crazy.
James McKinney: Oh my goodness, oh my goodness.
Kara Goldin: They're just like wait what happened here?
James McKinney: Can you imagine as a parent now, can you imagine making that decision for your kids? Like you can go live at colleges.
Kara Goldin: I mean my kids are incredibly responsible-
James McKinney: Of course.
Kara Goldin: … but it was crazy. But at the time, and again my son was just saying to me the other day, he said, "Did you ever worry that the police would say that your parents abandoned you?" And I said, "No!" It was just bizarre. And I remember, my husband I met years later in New York, and I was telling him. He was like, "So did you run away from home? I just don't really understand. Your parents left you?" I said, "No, I talked to them every day and I always had the option. They wanted me to come to Omaha." But anyway, I think I sort of delayed telling them that I didn't actually have to be in high school at this point, because I think they might have pulled me up there at that point. But anyway, that was pretty interesting. But you know it's interesting when I think back on that time, and a lot of what made me what I am today is I figured out pretty quickly that I had to kind of like be able to get up every morning and show up. Because maybe I feared a little bit that the rug would get pulled out from under me. Not that anyone was threatening to do that, but I really had to be responsible, and pay the bills, and do all of those things.
I had jobs. I had actually two jobs. One was I decided that I really liked getting my hair done, and so I was always really curious about hair salons. So at my local hair salon they needed somebody to do the front desk and basically schedule people. And so I did that and I learned a lot about hair, and I learned that I was not going to become a hair dresser, but it was really interesting. That was great. And then I also waitressed, and it's one of the stories that I talk about in the book that I met all kinds of people because Scottsdale is just kind of this Mecca for people coming, destination place where people would come in and happen to be working at this divey little Mexican restaurant that was there, still there, that had been there for years. And I just learned about talking to customers and really being able to understand what customers wanted.
So anyway, I was doing that and I decided too that I think I was off school for a semester and then I decided while I was technically in high school that I would start taking my first year of classes at a local community college, which was fun. There wasn't really a whole lot of community there, but anyway it was part of my journey I think that I look back on and think a lot about. I learned what I liked and what I didn't like. And I also had a lot of leash and I also felt like I had to make sure that I was saving my money and doing lots of things that maybe other 17 year old kids didn't have the opportunity to do.
James McKinney: You know there's a lot of parallels between our stories…
James McKinney: All right, before we continue on with Kara's episode I just want to ask you, The Startup Story listener, how valuable would it be to have direct access to some of my past guests to learn exactly how they executed certain strategies to grow their business? Well that is the experience and knowledge sharing that is delivered to you each quarter when you become a Grindology member. Grindology is an entrepreneurial subscription box that ships every quarter full of resources to help fuel your grind and hustle. Now you might be asking what's included in the Grindology shipment? Well, each shipment delivers two bags of uniquely crafted coffee, specifically roasted for you, the founder, hustler, entrepreneur, maker, and creator. Each shipment also includes an exclusive mug that speaks to the unique nature that is you, the entrepreneur.
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James McKinney: You know there's a lot of parallels between our stories. I took at the age of 15 1/2 lived on my own, under different circumstances. And I remember at that time, that moment I had a decision to make. Either I was going to get a GED and continue on with life, but I made a decision I wanted to finish high school with my friends. I wanted to have the normal high school life as much as I could at that point in time, given everything else going on. And I remember at that point, and that decision, for the first time I remember feeling the weight, the opportunity for success on my shoulders. Like I was either going to succeed or fail based on my efforts for this first time. I didn't have the parents to be a safety net anymore. It was solely on me and I just remember in processing everything from that point until now, that really was kind of the catalyst for this ownership mentality when it came to my personal destiny if you will. And it sounds very much like similar to yours in that you showed up every day. It was a decision you made. And I think until we're, until all safety nets are removed really aren't given those opportunities many times. When you think to the rest of your career, and I want to get us to Hint, when we think through the rest of your journey up to Hint, it's very much in the media space. We have some time at CNN, some time at Time, AOL is an interesting venture, not we're moving into technology. But what was progressing through life for you that brought you to Hint?
Kara Goldin: So I started my career… I left Arizona after I was a journalism major with a minor in finance. I frequently talk on college campuses about finance because for me it was one of these classes and subjects that I wasn't entirely comfortable with. And I had friends who were great at finance, so they would talk to me about EBITDA and finance related stuff when I was in college. And I had an opportunity to take some elective classes, and some of my friends were in these finances classes and I thought huh, it works out with my schedule, I'll take them. I remember the first couple of days thinking what in the heck am I doing? I could be taking at Arizona State, I could be taking sailing classes or whatever, kite surfing, I don't know. I could take a lot of other things and not this finance class. But what I realized was that, and something I think about a lot, is that if you don't put yourself into really uncomfortable positions at points along the way then you're not going to learn. It was this feeling that I actually was losing sleep over these classes. I mean they were really, really hard for me.
Then I started taking one of the suggestions of my professor was to get the Wall Street Journal and read it. For me, it was like the Wall Street Journal the first time I picked it up was like me reading Mandarin. I had no idea what I was looking at, and I kept like reading slow, and then I would try and look up the words. And then Fortune Magazine was another book, and I thought this is more my style. There's a lot of stuff in there that I still don't understand, but I really like it. By the time I graduated I had a minor in finance because I felt like I was really learning. For me, writing and journalism was easier and really interesting, but it wasn't as challenging for me as this other side of my brain that was getting worked with these finance classes. So when people would ask me what are you going to do after graduation, I said, "Probably something in journalism," but then I thought wow, it would be really interesting to keep learning. And that's why I wanted to work for Fortune Magazine.
And so when going back to my days in waitressing, there was a guy that always came into the restaurant and he was sort of working in Arizona but lived in Los Angeles. He asked me one day, he knew I was getting ready to graduate, and he said, "So what are you going to do after graduation?" The horrible question that you ask college students, right? And I said, "Uh, I have no idea." And I said, "What do you do?" Because I was curious. I asked everybody. After a while I found that I was always learning. People would tell me oh I'm an engineer and I do this, you know I live here, so I'd learn about cities. I'd learn about what these different jobs were. And the case of this gentleman, he said, "Well, I'm in product placement for Anheuser Busch." Okay, so I know what Anheuser Busch is. I'm a college kid, beer, I know what that is. But I'm like product placement, so what do you… you place product somewhere? And he said, "On movie sets." Because we shoot a lot of movies in Scottsdale, and I was like wait a minute, how do I get that job? That sounds like a great job. And he said, "I can probably get you an interview," and I said, "Really? Wow, that would be amazing. I could work on movie sets and placing beer. It'd be amazing." Kind of joking but somewhat serious, and so he said, "Well give me your phone number and I'll try to connect you. Again, it's an entry level job, it's nothing crazy." And so I ended up going to start in my journey, I went to Los Angeles to interview and then he said, "I have a couple other friends if you're interested in going to San Francisco, and there's another one in Chicago. I don't know if you're going to be going there." I'm like, "Nope, I'm going there." So I basically set up a whole series of interviews. I had over 90 interviews. I spent a month travelling. I never came back to Phoenix. I went from LA to San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and New York because I knew… the only think I knew was that I wanted to live in a big city. I wanted to get that experience, and I'd been hearing about these cities for years. And I went out and bought a plane ticket.
This is when there were travel agencies. I went to a travel agency and I said, "I want to leave on the first and I want to come back on the 30th or 31st, and I want to go to these cities." And they called me and said that the ticket would be $472. I thought, I said, "You mean one way?" And they said, "No, the whole thing. It'll be $472." And I was like, "Uh, here's my Visa card." I really thought they had made a mistake. And so anyway, I had over 90 interviews during that time. The biggest lesson, and I talk about this on college campuses all the time, the biggest lesson was that as I told people what I was doing, people said, at the end of an interview they'd say, "Oh, so do you have other interviews that you're talking to people?" And I said, "Well actually, I have one other here but I'm going to Chicago tomorrow." And they'd go, "Oh, what are you doing in Chicago?" "Oh, I have 15 interviews." They said, "You have 15 interviews?" I said, "Yeah. And then I'm going to Boston…" And as I told people, they said, "Well what are you looking for exactly?" I said, "I'm using this month to really explore," and I was showing my curiosity. And so anyway, people would help me. People that I didn't know, people who I was interviewing with, just by me sharing my story.
James McKinney: I love it.
Kara Goldin: And so again, I had over 90 interviews. I had 60 offers-
James McKinney: Wow.
Kara Goldin: … by the time that it was over. And again, they weren't anything crazy. They were like executive assistants. One step above the mail room. But they were jobs. That's when my dream job was to work at Fortune Magazine. And so I had received a letter back from Marshall Lobe, who was the then managing editor of Fortune. And he said, "If you're ever in the New York area then let us know." This is before security in the building, and I walked in to the Time and Life building, and I walked up to the HR department. I said, "I have this letter from Marshall Lobe." I mean the poor person, I can still see her face sitting in the HR department at the Time and Life building said, "I think he meant that you should have an appointment." And I said, "Well I'm here now, so maybe you can make it work." She called her boss, the head of like all of HR for Time. She came out. She said, "I'm really sorry. I think he meant that you should let us know." And I said, "Well, I'm here and I'm leaving tomorrow if you could just talk to him." Because I figured what's the worst that could happen?
James McKinney: Agreed.
Kara Goldin: If he knew that I flew in, there was a misunderstanding or whatever… So she finally said to me, "Unfortunately we don't hire people with no experience, but if you're willing there's a job at Time Magazine and they've been looking for a while so maybe she'll meet with you." And I said, "Great." In my mind I was thinking well, I'll work there for a while and do a great job, and then they'll recommend me to Fortune magazine. I didn't go in, I thought that I'll do a great job and then it will move into this next role. But what was so interesting is that I jumped into this job at circulation at Time, and I just was learning so much. Circulation is very numbers intensive. Anyway, it's all about subscriptions and loyalty, and we'll get to this later but it's so interesting because so much of what is critical in my business today goes back to that first job at time.
James McKinney: I love it.
Kara Goldin: But anyway, I was there for a couple of years. I learned a ton in that role, not only in my job but I also learned that there were people that were different than me. By that I mean that culturally, and again I didn't even call it culture back then, but everybody who was at Time had an Ivy League degree, and I went to Arizona State University. I was a state school… I never thought that there was anything wrong with my education. Suddenly I'm with a bunch of kids who all went to Ivy League schools, and they're saying, "What does your dad do? How did you get this job?" And after a while I would hear these things, and you know I'm human, it would kind of be upsetting to me. But then I thought I can't go back and do anything about it, all I can do is just do a great job and potentially leave, and go and recreate myself and do something different. I'm not going to go back to school at this point. I'm going to go and get some experience.
So then I got a call from a headhunter at this kind of newish late stage company called CNN. It's crazy to think, I mean they didn't call it a late stage startup back then, but Ted Turner was running around the office still. I talk about culture because I learned a ton about culture because it could not have been, even though it was a media company, it could not have been more different. It was Ted's running around with cowboy boots and a suit on, and even in Arizona, I don't know we didn't really do that. I mean it was you either wore cowboy boots or you wore a suit, but back then it just, that wasn't… you know. But I guess it was super interesting. It was a different type of media, but it was definitely a different culture. So I was there for a couple of years. Then actually met my husband in New York. He was doing, he just graduated from law school and he really wanted to do technology law. And so all of these firms were saying, "Go west." We were in New York City and they're all saying, "Go west." This is the mid nineties. You can come back in a couple years but technology is all out there. And so we moved to San Francisco thinking that it was… not knowing a soul, and I wasn't married yet, I was engaged to him. But thinking okay this will be fun for a year and then I'll come back.
I was debating whether I was going to stay with CNN or not. I was taking sort of a break. And when I came out to Silicon Valley I had been… I had had a Macintosh computer, an Apple, back when I was a journalism major in college. It was so cute and had this little Apple on it, and it was easy. I had been on mainframe computers in some of my courses that I was taking, but I just really appreciated design and the simplicity and ease, and the beauty of it. So when I moved to Silicon Valley the first person that I thought of as it related to sort of my visual of Silicon Valley was Steve Jobs. And I thought how can I go work for that guy? He's just like… and most of my friends, and particularly women, had no idea what I was talking about. It was just this I was speaking a foreign language, and I just said gosh I'm living in Silicon Valley, I wonder how I'd get a job at Apple. And then I read an article about this little startup that was a spinout of Apple that was Steve Jobs' idea, and it wasn't Steve Jobs but it was his idea. These guys had spun out of Apple and it was doing CD-Rom shopping. I thought I love to shop, and it'd be super fun, and maybe I'll get to meet Steve.
So I cold call the guy that was quoted in the article, and I said, "I would love to just take you to coffee." The interesting thing that I think back on of that time, something that my dad said to me is, "Brand smatter." You do a great job, and brands matter. And he believed that. I believe it too, and I remember cold calling this gentleman at the startup, and he said, "Well what do you do now?" and I said, "Well I just moved here from New York and I worked for CNN and Time." He said, "CNN? You worked for CNN? Do you know Ted Turner?" I mean it was just this like fascination. Again, I was like, "Well I'm entry level. I did some sales, I did some strategy stuff." And he said, "So do you know how to help a company make money?" I was like, "Probably, I don't know." So I just figured I'm just going to go and take this guy to lunch. So that lunch led into a job offer, and it was crazy. And on so many levels, I remember coming back and talking to my fiance saying these guys were really interesting, very different culturally than what I had seen in New York. They were all wearing jeans and t-shirts, and there were old pizza boxes around the office. There were different levels of education. It was just ideas, everybody was participating, and they kept asking me, "Well what do you think?" And I thought I mean I'm just interviewing. I guess I'm interviewing for a job. And they said, "Oh, you should come work with us. It'd be really fun. You seem like you have different experience. It'd be great to have you here."
I don't know, they just looked like they were having a great time, and I kept thinking okay well I could take this role, and then I could always quit. I wasn't qualified for this job anyway. Maybe they'll find me out eventually, but I just thought I'll have something. So I did, and then a few months later we were acquired by one of their investors, America Online. And so there were a couple of people from my company who were asked to go run different buttons, and my button was… I think my button was the consolation prize. It's called shopping. Nobody is actually going to do it right now, but you'd be great for it because you'd just do really… you'd be great. Other people do sports and news and all the fun ones, but shopping? Like just hang out there and see what happens. And so that's what I did. I ran shopping and ecommerce partnerships, and did that for seven years. It was $1 billion in revenues by the time I left.
I was still living in San Francisco, and my husband was an intellectual property attorney in Silicon Valley at this point, in-house counsel at Netscape. And I remember when the United Airlines pilot said to me, seven years into my role at AOL, I was getting on a flight at 6 o'clock in the morning from San Francisco to DC and he said, "Good morning, Kara. How are you?" I thought wait, he's calling me by my first name. This is crazy. And I was flying too much, right? He was very familiar face, and I had these three young children at home, living in San Francisco. Three children under the age of four, and I thought you know I actually want to stay home. I want to actually be a parent, and I want to go to mommy and me classes, and do some of that stuff. And I didn't know how long I wanted to do it for, but I wanted to see my children. I was not seeing them enough. And so when I left AOL that was, I didn't know how long I was going to take off, but that was really my mindset. I ended up taking a few years off.
Long winded way to sort of get to the Hint side of it, where in addition to sort of trying to figure out what I wanted to do next and when I wanted to do it, I recognized that I had some health issues that I wanted to figure out. I had gained a bunch of weight over the course of many pregnancies and could never lose it. But in addition to that I had developed terrible adult acne that I didn't even have as a teenager, and my energy levels were just sinking. And I couldn't figure out exactly why all this was. And so I started looking at a bunch of different diets, and also counting calories. I had never done any of this before. And then one day I pretty much had given up and sort of thought this is just the way my body… this is how my body is going to be, and this is the way I'm supposed to feel. I had been reading calories and ingredients for sort of the last few months, and that's when my diet soda, my diet Coke in particular, was kind of staring me in the face. And I thought gosh, that's so interesting that everybody says to get healthy you have to exercise and eat right. And what about what you drink? And so I thought well, it's probably not going to work but I'll just test it and see what happens. And that's when I tested the diet soda, gave it up, and started drinking plain water.
What I realized is for years people had told me to drink more water. Again, growing up in Arizona it's like hydration, but I didn't because it was boring. So I started, I was kind of feeling bored with this whole plain water thing, but I was feeling better. But that's when I started slicing up fruit and throwing it in the water. Then I'd go to the grocery story because it was so darn easy to buy a 12 pack of the diet coke, and now I had to get the water, slice up the fruit, you know it was a hassle. And I thought this is hard, how am I going to travel if I've got to do all this prep work? It's just hard. And so I looked around at all these stores for what would eventually become Hint and everything had sweeteners in it. I just couldn't believe it. I said come on, it has to be somewhere, I'll go to another store. I went to Safeway, I went to Whole Foods that had just opened, I went to all these places. Nobody had it. So that's when I asked the guy in my local While Foods, I thought if any store should have a product that is an unsweetened flavored water it would be this beautiful Mecca of stores that had entered my life. That's when I decided that, or I saw for myself that it wasn't there. And I thought… I still didn't think that I was going to start a company, and I really just thought gosh, there should be a product like this to make my life easier.
After two and a half weeks of living this way, I should mention the big thing, I lost over 20 pounds. My skin cleared up, and my energy levels went up. And so just by changing diet soda for plain water, and then ultimately adding fruit to it. So for me, I really I saw this not only this hole in the market, but I also felt sorry for the consumer because I thought there's probably a lot of other people out there that are drinking diet soda that want water, but they haven't seen what I've seen, because they haven't done this test. And so I just decided I should just go, while I'm not working, I'm going to go and get a product on the shelf. Friends would then say to me, "Oh, that's so cool. You started a company." And I said, "Wait, me? I didn't… I just launched a product at Whole Foods," and they said, "But it's a company." I said, "No, I've worked for Time, I worked for CNN, I worked for a little startup, but I haven't raised money." Basically my theory was if nobody wants it I'll have more in my pantry, right? I wasn't really thinking about it in that way. But what I realized, and really important point I think is that I didn't know when I was leaving AOL that I was at a point where I had been through this hockey stick. And anyone who's been through this hockey stick of huge growth, and then it starts to level off. Thankfully it wasn't in a nosedive but it was starting to level off, I was kind of bored. And I couldn't figure out how to articulate that. But I felt that… I felt all of the sudden this amazing energy just coming from all that I was learning about this new industry.
So every day the Whole Foods guy, after I get it on the shelf at Whole Foods, the guy I think I've got it all down at this point, and then he says, "Who's your distributor?" I'm like, "Me." And he said, "Well, not for long. If we had every mom and pop coming in and distributing your product, we'd have a lot of people in here and we want customers. We don't want people like you who are creating these products." I would be, "So where do I get a distributor?" He said, "I don't know. You better find your own distributor."
And so again, here's somebody who was the youngest vice president at AOL, one of the few female vice presidents at AOL and sitting pretty in this position, and all of the sudden I'm down at the bottom again. I'm a builder again. And that's something that I share with entrepreneurs all the time, that I know that about myself. I love the build, right? I love it so much. And I think that's something that I saw in these other companies that was just something that I know about myself, that I always encourage entrepreneurs to kind of, "Are you getting bored in your job? What has happened along the way where you were most excited? Because that's often the time that you need to go and learn something new, if that's really what you love doing."
James McKinney: I love it. You know I want to insert something real quick. For those who haven't caught on yet, for those listening, Hint is the unsweetened flavored water. I think to this day still the only one on the market that is unsweetened flavored water.
Kara Goldin: Well there's competition, and there's private label products that are out there, but we not only created a company but we also created the category that you mentioned, unsweetened flavored water. There's been tons of competition over the years and also not just brands, but also private label. So maybe your local grocery store has an unsweetened flavored water. We led the category. Nobody was doing unsweetened flavored water prior to Hint, but today we are the largest hands down.
James McKinney: And maybe the reason I thought it was still the only one is because my wife who loves flavored waters has said Hint is the best out there, so I assumed that no one was competing at that point. So let's put a date stamp on when this idea started to percolate with you. What year was this?
Kara Goldin: 2004.
James McKinney: What was the water scene at that time? Because I'm thinking Vitamin Water was probably earlier I think.
Kara Goldin: Well Vitamin Water, gosh, I want to say at that point maybe 12 or 13 years old, but a lot of people were just discovering it. What's interesting that I've learned about brands too is that while people feel that they're sort of discovery brand people, so often they've been around a lot longer. I know the founders of Vitamin Water and some sort of key people who were at Vitamin Water at the time, and I remember when I met them shortly after I launched Hint that I think they had one or two bankruptcies. There were a lot of thing that happened when no one had heard of them. Very, very different company. But what I didn't know about what I was doing, again I didn't do it to start a company or I call myself an accidental entrepreneur because this was not… I didn't go work for America Online or the Steve Jobs startup because I knew that I wanted to use that, those skills, and had experience to go launch my own company. But it's been pretty darn helpful to be able to sort of think about those companies. Even though they're in different industries I think it gave me the confidence. Something I talked about before where thinking about this company 2Market which was the company that was the Steve Jobs idea, the idea that ideas can come from anywhere, and it doesn't matter what your job title is. It's more important to be curious and participate. I think it's something that even in building my own company has been really critical.
I talked about culture before. Culture is so important in companies, and there's a feel, and it typically starts with the founder and sort of how the founder is, and filters down from that. I think that because I've worked in so many different cultures too, none of them were great or horrible, right? There were pieces that were really great about each of them, so when I decided to start my own company, we talk about the journey, I was able to kind of pick just different elements along the way that were super great or ones that I just didn't want to have any part of my company.
James McKinney: The reason I ask, and thank you for sharing all that, but the reason I ask about the water scene at the time, especially when it comes to food and beverage space, or consumer products, if there is a market leader out there that is significant, and again they obviously were not the unsweetened flavored water category, but there tends to be this barrier we see in front of us and think well, I can't compete with that, and I'm not even going to try. I'm asking this question because again, the book Undaunted, was there a moment in your early days, specifically your early days, where you thought to yourself you know what, I'm just going to keep this for myself? Because you created it to solve a personal need you had to have flavorful water, without all the chemicals and the additives and everything else. You then started seeing can I put it on a shelf. Well, as you started to have some micro successes, now you are getting to a point where it does either have to become a business, a legitimate business and not just a side hustle or a hobby of yours, but was there a moment where you thought I don't want to do this or I can't do this?
Kara Goldin: Yeah. About a year into… I mean, I have a lawyer for a husband so we definitely grabbed the trademarks early on. That's a story in and of itself. But it was definitely a company, but I think my… I never let the idea of me launching a company and me launching a category kind of freak me out, right? I just I always kind of to some extent, maybe this is the wrong way to talk about it, but sort of dumbed it down and said eh, it's no big deal, I'm just going to Whole Foods today and talk to… whatever, I'll figure it out. But I just I think that was the fun of it, right? And so often we build up these walls around ourselves where we can't move forward because we feel like we don't have the right experience, it's just this really hard thing. And I think that's something that I've learned in my life that you just go try, right? And if you go and try, you have a greater chance of actually succeeding. That, it's just a mindset instead of actually thinking oh gosh, it's never going to work. Well, you'll never be successful if you sit in that zone. I think that is something that I've really always believed.
But a year into after I launched Hint at Whole Foods I think I was just getting to the point, I was kind of sort of softly interviewing. I was getting calls from some really interesting Silicon Valley firms, and I was starting to wonder am I really doing the right thing, because this is really hard, ,and I'm not making any money. I wasn't even taking a salary at that time. It was just, it was really fun and it was really energizing but it was exhausting. I had four kids under the age of six.
James McKinney: Oh man.
Kara Goldin: It was a lot, right? And I thought there's easier ways to make money, I should do something else. Frankly, most of the stuff in Silicon Valley, I was living in San Francisco at the time and most of the tech companies were in Silicon Valley so I didn't really… I think that's what saved me from not taking some of these roles. Because some of the roles were pretty interesting that were coming in, but I just felt like the drive and the commute was longer than I wanted, especially because I did want to be closer to my family. But that's when I thought gosh, maybe I should just try and… there were so many problems around distribution, around getting a proper shelf life, all of these things that were kind of haunting me. And I thought about I don't know if I actually thought about just throwing in the towel, but I really felt like there were companies out there that potentially could benefit from what I was doing.
I thought of myself as the, I had been a huge diet coke fan and I loved that company for so many years, and I thought I should go help them figure out who, customers like me who were incredibly loyal to them, I should tell them about my product. That I left diet Coke, I'm sure you guys miss me, and now I'm drinking this water, this unsweetened flavored water that I made in my kitchen. And so I was telling my girlfriend and she had met this guy, very senior executive from Coca Cola on an airplane, and she said, "I should write to him and tell him about your idea. Maybe he can even help you figure out distribution or how to get a proper shelf life without using preservatives." So I reach out to this guy and we have a phone call. And I'll never forget, I'm like 15 minutes into the call and I'm totally prepped and sharing how this is big, and we're in about 10 stores in San Francisco, and we're selling, and everything is great, and he interrupts me and 15 minutes into the call and says, "Sweetie, Americans love sweet. This product isn't going anywhere." I was like wait, did he just call me sweetie?
James McKinney: That's the first thing I heard when you said it, I was like whoa did he just call you sweetie?
Kara Goldin: Yeah I was like wait, what? And so people have always asked me, I've shared that story and people have said to me, "Did you hang up the phone on him? Did you yell at him? What did you say?" And I said, "I said nothing." I just sat there. I was shocked because I had never been called sweetie before, and I was really, really surprised. And so I just sat there and let him continue talking. And about three minutes after this occurred, I realized that he was talking to me about why he thought that what I had created was not only stupid, and he was trying to convince me that it wasn't necessary, but he was also sharing with me what this very large company thought was necessary, which at the time diet drinks were all 10 calories. So he felt that the key was really getting diet drinks down to zero calories. I said, "But what if they don't make you healthy? Is that still key? Because I was a consumer that was drinking your product for many, many years but for me it wasn't really about the calories, it was really I thought you were making me healthier."
And that's when I figured it out, and that's when I just decided well maybe I shouldn't say much more because he's convinced himself. And again, being the child of a father that had worked in a really large company, I just realized that they think they know, right? And they know what's best, and they're not interested in innovation. The thing that I never heard from him during that one hour conversation that I had from him was the word "health" and the importance of health. It's fascinating because this is one year into my business. The thing probably coming from tech, we had put an email on our bottle and a phone number on our bottle from day one of getting our product on the shelf, and customers called us on that first day. It was crazy. And of course there was no, don't tell anybody, but there was no customer service center.
It was me, right, they were calling my phone number and I had transferred the 800 number into my cell phone. And I said, and I realized I mean we weren't a large company but I was getting these phone calls from customers who were saying thank you for creating this water that doesn't have sweeteners, or I started hearing about this disease that I had read a little bit on but was more and more curious about, which was Type II Diabetes. And at that time it was like 2% of the population had this disease called Type II Diabetes which is different than Type I Diabetes. And really what was so interesting about it was that it was you're not born with it, or they don't think you're born with it, it's acquired. And so I started hearing, it was amazing to me how much customers would share with me about this, that they felt they were healthy, they were drinking diet, and they were marathon runners. They were very healthy people that were getting this disease. I just kept like thinking after this meeting with this gentleman at Coke that I had these customers that really were sharing the importance of health with me. And while he didn't think that health was important, my customers did, I did, and so I had to go service them and continue doing this product.
When I hung up the phone I think there's a pretty decent shot that he thought I was like, it was over with, that I would go do something else. Instead I thought I have a decision to make. I could either quit, which I probably won't do, or you know I guess the net of it is was I going to let it bother me, no because I had all these customers that wanted the product. That's when it almost gave me fuel. But I didn't know even going into that call, I was about to give away the company. I would have done anything because I kept thinking I want to go do something else. But that's when I really felt this real need to really continue to service the customers that we had, and that hasn't changed today. People call… when I launched Hint 15 years ago it truly was about a mission and a purpose, and it wasn't about launching a beverage. It's fascinating because a few years into launching people said you were like the first company I thought of when people started talking about mission and purpose driven companies.
James McKinney: I love it.
Kara Goldin: I mean I was like I guess. I just was trying to drink more water, and that was it, maybe it would make me healthier.
James McKinney: One of the things you said that reminded me of a previous interview was the fact that you had the customers. You immediately processed those customers as validation that you are doing something that is serving a population of people. And I'm reminded of a previous interview with Ben Chestnut of Mailchimp. They bootstrapped Mailchimp to this day, not a single investment dollar. It's valued at $7 billion and when Constant Contact went public they were getting all these headlines, and he, Ben, said to himself, "Why am I not getting these headlines? Why am I not getting the validation for what we have done? Why, why, why, why, why?" And it took him a moment to pause and understand that the real validation that matters are the customers. The customers that keep coming back, month after month-
Kara Goldin: totally.
James McKinney: … that provide feedback on the product, that are engaged in improving the product. That was the only validation that matters, and you had that. Now he had experienced that later on in the Mailchimp journey. You experienced it very early on and I'm sure that helped propel you as Hint continues to grow. But when you look back to your growing of the space, technology was part of it. And ecommerce was pretty healthy in the early 2000s. advertising was drastically different than now if a product were to launch, how someone would go about it. But when we think back to your growth strategy, this was pre Facebook ads which is what everyone leverages now when they launch a product., it's so much different if someone were to launch a beverage product now. What was your early growth strategies in the early 2000s when you launched Hint?
Kara Goldin: So I mean this is pre Facebook days, and we didn't have any money. I mean I was self funding the company, and so I certainly wouldn't have had money for Facebook ads, but I also didn't have money for billboards. Also coming from an advertising world at CNN in particular, I felt… I knew I had an understanding of reaching frequency, so I thought that it was kind of a waste of money if I didn't have a lot of money to go and buy a lot of billboards. Because maybe somebody wouldn't be driving down the street where I had that like one little billboard or whatever. And so I remember one day we got a phone call from an event. So it ends up something else I didn't know prior to launching Hint, but it ends up that if you are doing an event in a major city and you have more than, slightly varies but if you have more than 100 people at your event it's mandatory basically scheduled by the city that you have to have water for people that are participating in your events.
So people would know that we were a water company, and they'd reach out and ask us for a donation. And so we started getting these phone calls, and what I think one day I just thought oh, well they buy our product, they're a customer, so why not we'll give them a few cases of Hint. So then I started hearing from more customers, they'd say, "Well why aren't you in such and such store? I just had the product at this event." And so what I realized is it was a great way for people to actually try our product just by doing these events. So I had to find more of those events. So in addition to sort of taking inbound calls, I was also looking for events where I thought people were looking for health, and were needing water. And so we would go to these events. Almost immediately we would hear back from people.
The thing that I thought was so interesting early on was that we would do events that were all around health, but health varies so much. We would have events where people were Autism Speaks was like a really big event that we did, and gave away a bunch of water. But then there was breast cancer. So the people who had attended those events for either one of those, they felt that Hint had a connection to something that they cared about.
James McKinney: Oh, okay.
Kara Goldin: So it was a very, very powerful lesson around community and finding I guess you call it finding your tribe, right? And most of the time, these customers they're at an event where they're going to spend their afternoon, their most valuable thing, their time, and they're looking around. No longer were we competing with all of the brand son the shelf at the local retail store because we were a product as long as we tasted great, and we were showing up at their even that they cared about. And so it was… we built our strategy I mean we call it field marketing, event marketing, we built our marketing and our brand there first.
I think it's fascinating, maybe it's easier to do that with a food or drink where you're doing that but I think that there's other ways for companies to do that, to sort of partner. I call it borrowing equity from another brand. But again, like super unintentional. It was not sort of what I was looking to do, but I realized that so many of our customers because we weren't doing advertising, they were not only buying our product but they were also going into stores and filling out those little sheets saying hey stock this product in the stores. Yeah, that was really the beginnings of it.
Then that extended in sort of another way when we ended up going into a few years into launching Hint, I was still like, I was in it but I was still kind of taking interesting calls that would come my way for different roles. One day I got one phone call from a guy that I knew who had worked with my husband at Netscape who was at Google. He was trying to recruit me and trying to get me to come to Google, and as I was turning him down for this role, and I really liked him a lot, I just felt kind of bad that I was not… because part of me really wanted to go to Google, but I remember sharing with him about how I had started this company Hint and I was doing an unsweetened flavored water. He's kind of laughing because here's this tech executive, mom of four kids, I just wasn't the profile. He said, "Wait, what are you doing?" And then I pulled a cucumber Hint out of my bag and I said, "Yeah, here it is. It's really exciting." He said, "How'd you get the idea?" And tell him about why I launched it. And that's, his name is Omid Kordestani and Omid said, "By the way, at Google we've just started hiring chefs because it takes too long for people to go out to lunch. You should talk to him about ordering some of your water." And again, was he helping me? I think he was kind of joking, but he was sort of trying to solve a problem that he thought might exist. He had no idea.
And so when I called Charlie at Google who was the original chef at Google, he I think brought Hint in because he liked Omid, and he said, "Yeah, I'll try it. Who's your distributor?" And I said, "I don't have a distributor. Can I drive it down?" And he said, "Yeah, I just talked to Omid and Omid said you used to be a tech executive. We'll try your product. Just drop a couple cases off." He called me back that afternoon and he said, "this water is incredible, and we're trying to really do health for our employees. Can you bring 10 cases tomorrow?" And then he called me later that afternoon and he said, "Can you bring 30 cases?" I said, "Charlie, just so you know, I don't have that many cases at my house." And he said, "What do you mean?" I said, "I'm tiny. We're self funding this." He said, "Well, we'll order a bunch from you." Google became our largest customer. Within a week, they were our largest customer. And what was so beautiful, speaking about what I talked about before about that we didn't have this competition that we had in the retail stores, it was crazy because we were the only beverage at Google for a year.
James McKinney: Wow.
Kara Goldin: It was nothing else. And so as Google was going through their own hockey stick of growth, all you could find was Hint. And then all of these employees would reach out to me and say, "I heard you were Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Then you started your own beverage company, and I think that's really cool," or other people would leave Google and they would start their own company or go to another company. I'll never forget, we're a few years into Google and Cheryl Sandberg had just gone to Facebook and her assistant reached out to me and said, "Hi. Cheryl asked me to call you because she loves Hint Fizz and she was wondering if there's any way you could get it into Facebook." And I said, "Uh, sure." And she said, "Oh really? That's great." Cheryl actually interviewed me for my book a couple months ago, and I reminded her of that story, and she's like, "Oh my God, yes, yes, yes I remember this like it was yesterday. Like where do we get this stuff?" Because again, those were our people. They were trying… I mean, first of all you've got to have a great product. We wouldn't have stayed in Facebook or Google for so many years if we didn't have a great product. But I think that the other piece of it was the story, right? And it definitely helped that I mean Omid introduced me to the chef, and they all thought it was a little crazy that a tech executive started a beverage company around health, but then they started to share that story with so many people, and people thought wow that's really interesting. There's this Silicon Valley example of somebody who just is curious. And there's a million of these stories out there about curiosity, but as I always say curiosity to me is just much more valuable, and much more… much more underrated than experience. I think, anyway I think that was a really key component to our growth.
James McKinney: You know there is so much I still want to unpack with your story but we are coming up on time unfortunately, and I want to honor your time. And so I want to encourage all of my listeners grab her book, Undaunted. We'll have a link in the show notes. You'll cover the journey in much greater detail. It's been an absolute joy having you on the show. But now I want to honor my listeners time with three questions that I know they look forward to every single time, because every time at the end, when the show goes live, I get feedback from them. And that first question is about the philosophy of entrepreneurship, the idea o the persona of entrepreneurship. There's this headline, there's this idea out there that entrepreneurship is a "if you build it, they will come" mentality. That anyone can do this, anyone can just open up a Shopify store, become an entrepreneur. And while there's some truth to that, there's also a lot more to entrepreneurship that never makes the headlines. So my question for you is do you believe anybody can be an entrepreneur?
Kara Goldin: I think you have to have curiosity and a willingness to try. And also as the subtitle of my book, my book is called Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters, is that you're going to have fears along the way, you're going to have failures, you're going to have people like the Coca Cola executive who thought I was stupid and shouldn't try. But you have to be able to know that you will not be successful if you don't go and try.
And I think to your point, so many people talk about entrepreneurism as they're born that way and they're fearless risk takers. And they never fail, they never have doubts, all of these things. I think that is 1000% wrong, and I also believe I think there are people that know from a very young age that they're going to be an entrepreneur. I wouldn't say that is true for me, but I think for what I've learned is, and really appreciate is that innovation really stems from the people that maybe are a little crazy. The visionaries that want to go and try things, and are super curious. And I can spot entrepreneurs very, very well now. And I think too to your point, I think there's people who have ideas and that doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to be able to be an entrepreneur. You have to have an idea, you have to have I think be solving a problem. And then also be able to build a team that can actually help you execute, and the importance of people, and know how to build that team. That team may change overtime as you hit different milestones and needs, but that is really the key. I mean I have ideas on things all day long, and I share this with people who say, "Oh I had this idea" but it's not just about the idea. It's really about your ability to actually recruit and scale and hire the right people that are going to help you build your dream.
James McKinney: You know I love it and that's a great segue to the next question, the idea of people, the idea of not doing it alone. There's another element to entrepreneurship where it's really about this laptop on a couch and just kind of isolation, you're in this vacuum with no human contact, you're just pounding away code and all of the sudden you're going to be the next Airbnb. And what they don't hear though are all the people that poured into them from behind the scenes along their journey. So when you look back to your entrepreneurial journey who are all the people that you look to with such immense gratitude for their contribution to where you are today?
Kara Goldin: There's so many people. That's such an unfair q. I have like over 200 people in the company, right, and more people who had gone on to do different things along the way. I won't name names, but here's what I will say based on what you said, to your point. I'll never forget, I was speaking on a college campus and I think I upset the people from the university when I said this to a group of students that were engineers. I said that if you want to be the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg or whatever, you have to have an appreciation for the stuff that you don't know. And so what, and so in order to be a great entrepreneur if you're an engineer and you're banging away on code, and you don't really understand finance or marketing, and don't have an appreciation for it too, you will not… you might be a founder but you're not going to stay as the CEO. You have to… and so I'm always encouraging students to go and learn those things that maybe they think are stupid. How many people who maybe are finance people or engineers or whatever think that marketing and brand is just easy, so easy?
James McKinney: Yes, yes, yes.
Kara Goldin: And so go and figure out those things, and have an appreciation for it, and figure out what they do. And those are the people that are really going to have the successful companies. Or also be able to hire for those people too, because I think otherwise you'll just be an entrepreneur who ends up maybe you've got an idea and you end up getting it taken away from you over time because you're just not, you don't have an appreciation for these other aspects.
James McKinney: Yeah, I love it. Absolutely love it. It's funny you talk about the silos of the disciplines, and I think it's in academia where that begins to percolate within the student that sales drives the company, or finance is the backbone. That's where the silos being. And until you're in the real world and you're working, it is interdependent. To your point you cannot operate in a vacuum.
Kara Goldin: Totally. I mean not to sort of belabor the point, but it makes me crazy when I hear founders who I'll talk to them about their balance sheet or just basic finance stuff that again I learned when I was in college, really basic bare bones. I have an incredible CFO and a great finance team, but you as the leader of this company, if you can't actually jump in and really understand just basic elements, then you won't stay as the CEO. You'll reach a max and then you won't do it, so it makes me crazy when I hear founders, and I hear it over and over again, and it never changes "that's someone else's business," and they kind of joke about it, whether it's the finance or the engineering. I mean I know a little bit of code. I know a little bit of a lot, and I think that is really the best CEOs today are able to do that. Yeah, the bigger you get you have more teams, and you have people who are focusing on those things. But having an understanding of a lot of different areas, and then also being able to bring in help when needed. If there's a Facebook algorithm issue, I know people at Facebook that I could call and try and figure out exactly what's going on. That is what they rely on you, to go external and be able to help fix things. But again, without having a basic understanding of a lot of aspects of your company, I think it's just foolish.
James McKinney: Yeah. Oh, love it. Last question, I know we're running close to time. But this last question is really a chance for you to speak to the one listener of mine. Maybe that, as much as I would love to afford all of my listeners a chance to sit with you and a chance to learn from you, this is the best we can do. And maybe it's that persona of the frustrated entrepreneur, much like you mentioned your dad earlier. Maybe it's the defeated entrepreneur who having gone through 2020 isn't quite sure that they can stand back up and dust themselves off and keep moving forward. Or maybe it's the wantrepreneur, or maybe it's the business student. Whatever the persona of my listeners are, there is somebody in the midst of contemplating a startup, working on a startup, or having just closed down an unsuccessful startup. Whatever person that is, as your last words with us on The Startup Story, what would you like to say to that one person?
Kara Goldin: I'd say figure out what you want to get up and do. And that is the key thing. Love what you are doing, and what are you curious about, what are you willing to keep putting work into, to get better? Because entrepreneurship, being in a startup, is not the easiest job. It often is a role that you… that takes a long time to build, and probably takes longer than you even think. And so you have t love what you're doing. Because if you're not, then it will be frustrating, and it will eat away at you.
I always equate entrepreneurs to doing a puzzle. If you don't like puzzles then you're probably not going to like entrepreneurship. But there's an added little scenario to the puzzle. Imagine if you're doing a puzzle and they don't give you the box at the beginning. You're just a bunch of puzzle pieces, and you're just doing it. It's pretty fun at some point, but then you're like wait what is this picture? What am I trying to do? And then sometimes somebody comes up and grabs a handful of the puzzle pieces and they walk away, and you don't know that they're missing. You've got to sit there and try and figure out what are those things. That is entrepreneurism. I think that paints the picture, and some days you wake up and you recognize that there… the puzzle pieces were never there, but now they're there and you figured it out. And you're like score. It's got this amazing, euphoric feeling but it's also, and it doesn't matter what category you're in. it's the same movie, and I've described this so often to existing entrepreneurs, and they said, "For sure." This is exactly what happens. But if that idea frustrates you, probably not for you.
And I always, one last thing that I always say to people is if you think that entrepreneurism might be something that you want to do but you've never worked in an entrepreneurial environment, go find a company or a founder that you really think is just awesome, and you want to go and you're really… really you've got to like the product and service, you've got to love kind of what they're doing, but I think that is a great way to actually learn what it's like to be in an environment too. That doesn't mean that you have to go start a company tomorrow just because you like the idea. You can actually go in and see how different it is. Because I think things like culture, things like not having resources, things that are really, really interesting. Different size startups too. Pre-seed versus a Series D versus a public startup, et cetera. There's so many things that you can learn in different stages, and it doesn't mean that you have to go and start your own company. If you don't have an idea and sort of a solve for that idea, and a company that you want to start, don't do it. Because there's no reason to do it and you have a much greater chance of it not sort of coming out the way that you want. Just go join one that you think looks great.
James McKinney: Once you've had a few moments to process all the value Kara Goldin brought us in this week's episode, please hit me up on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram and share with me your thoughts on this episode. And lastly, if you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. And you heard me mention at the top of the show but I'm going to mention it one last time. Kara has provided some cases of Hint water and copies of her book to be given away. So make sure to hit up our show notes for easy access to that entry form. There's no purchase necessary which means there's no excuse not to enter. We'll also include a link to her remarkable book Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters as well as a link to her podcast, The Kara Goldin Show. I say it in every episode because I believe it with my very being, entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs, so let's show up for Kara Goldin in a huge way as a show of appreciation for all the value that she delivered to us today. And now for my personal ask.
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